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France sets out plan to end 'imported deforestation'

Beawiharta, REUTERS | A view of burnt trees in a peatland area for palm oil plantations near Teluk Meranti village in Pelalawan, Indonesia's Riau province November 11, 2009.

France set out plans on Wednesday to tackle deforestation around the world, saying it would look to curb imports of products such as palm oil, soy and beef that contribute to the destruction of forest areas.

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In a joint statement, five French ministries proposed 17 measures aimed at putting a halt by 2030 to deforestation caused by imports of non-sustainable forest or agricultural products.

Palm oil, a type of vegetable oil used in confectionery and other goods, is controversial because of the environmental impact of clearing forests to make way for plantations.

The majority of the world's palm oil comes from Malaysia and Indonesia, where deforestation has threatened orangutan populations.

The statement by the five ministries said that in between 1990 and 2015, the world's forest area fell by 129 million hectares (319 million acres) – eight times the size of France's mainland forest.

"[This leads] to an 11 percent increase in greenhouse gas emissions and significant consequences in terms of preserving biodiversity and natural habitats," the ministries said.

"European countries bear an important responsibility, since a third of this deforestation is due to the consumption of agricultural products by the countries of the European Union," the statement added.

Companies and governments – including the European Union – have made multiple pledges to halt deforestation in recent years but progress in dealing with the issue has been slow.

Earlier this month, France joined six other EU countries in calling on the European Commission to deliver a long-awaited action plan by the end of the year to tackle global deforestation.

The measures unveiled on Wednesday include financial aid to encourage developing countries to respect non-deforestation criteria, the launch of a "zero deforestation" label for consumers by 2020 and a push next year for a European policy on imports posing a risk for forests.

As part of a renewable energy bill adopted on Tuesday, the EU said it would phase out biofuels containing feedstock that contribute to deforestation by 2030. France echoed this measure on Wednesday.

In May, France had allowed a limited use of palm oil at Total's planned La Mede biofuel refinery, a move that prompted an outcry from environment activists and farmers who said the palm oil would be imported.

Former environment minister Nicolas Hulot said soon after his appointment last year he would limit the use of palm oil in biofuels in France to reduce deforestation in the countries of origin, raising outcry from Indonesia and Malaysia, but he took no concrete measures to do so.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

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